Book 17 Chapter 11 – Birthday Party at the Rong Mansion
Following Chen Changlin, Xu Ziling stood some ways away, always mindful of any changes around Wang Shichong. Although he was unable to change his height, he meticulously tied a red warrior band on his head, and the warrior clothing he wore also made him appeared swollen. Unless it was one was deliberately scrutinizing him, there was no flaw at all, particularly because everybody thought he had left the city early on.
However, it was not until after Li Shimin and Tuli came over and exchanged greetings with Wang Shichong that he was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, because even Li Jing, who was always by Li Shimin’s side, only cast him a glance and then no longer paid any attention to him.
He did not pay attention to what everybody was talking about; he also did not worry that Shen Luoyan might attack at this time. Lang Feng was in charge of setting up checkpoints and sentry stations along the way toward the Rong Mansion; only if the enemy launched a large-scale attack would they meet them head-on.
Due to Ke Feng’s intelligence, Shen Luoyan would definitely take this opportunity to beat them at their own game, and would carry out the assassination when Wang Shichong was on his way back to the Imperial City. Therefore, this banquet hall was the safest place instead.
Soon after they started chatting, this group of politicians, military experts, and millionaires, who held the life and death of millions of people, immediately talked shop about monetary problems. It is thus clear that this was the most important matter concerning the economics and people all over the world’s livelihood.
Someone was saying, “Currently everybody is minting new money to replace the old dynasty’s Five-Zhu currency [1 zhu = 1/24 of a tael]. But the new coins are inferior; one by one the price of rice, cloth, and other daily necessities is rising, making one feel to have one’s hands bound and is unable to do anything about it.”
Wang Shichong said, “If the money came from official minting, there is no problem quality-wise; the problem is on money from private minting. On these inferior coins, even the inscribing is indistinct; practically it looks like just a silhouette.”
Zhangsun Wuji, by Li Shimin’s side, sighed and said, “Money from official mint creates another problem: since the Han dynasty, gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, mercury, and other minerals are gradually returned to the government to manage. But in order to ensure that there is sufficient Zhu money circulated in the market, while maintaining the quality, the old dynasty must mine these minerals in large quantity. At one time Yang Guang opened up more than twenty gold mines at Wuling and the others, twelve counties, with forced labor reaching six hundred thousands; the dead and the injured were countless, but they only produced fifty something tael of gold, while wasting hundreds of li of land. The mining officials became thieves who killed the people. Before any benefit was seen, the damage has already been realized.”
Listening to this, Xu Ziling had a deep frown on his face; he was certain that Kou Zhong had never thought about this aspect. Only people like Wang Shichong, Li Shimin, and the others, long-term politicians, would think about this problem. This Zhangsun Wuji was worthy to be called an intellectual scholar; his words were indeed thought provoking.
At the same time he also noticed that Tuli was listening very attentively; his mind was churning, suddenly he realized why Tuli people wanted to carry out their invasion via the Central Earth people under his control, because to govern such a vast territory was simply not something that nomadic people was qualified to do. Therefore, while on one hand the Tujue people plundered the Central Plains’ property and sons and daughters, on the other hand they also supported militias.
Li Shimin joined in, “The so-called new currency now is nothing more than the old dynasty’s Five-Zhu money smelted into new ones. And the people’s inferior money is just the Five-Zhu coins plus other iron and various bits and bobs, hence one wen could become several wen. Since it is so profitable, the process continues. The only solution is if the world goes back to be unified; by means of one powerful central authorities, this custom can be put to an end. Under current situation, there is nothing we can do.”
Listening to him, Xu Ziling’s heart was full of admiration; if Kou Zhong were not his brother, and he had to select one person, perhaps he would also choose Li Shimin to be the future monarch to govern all the people.
This thought made him feel so uncomfortable.
Between Li and Kou, regardless of who won and who lost, the other side would have only one destiny left: to be killed. What would be the best solution to this matter?
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong still wanted to tease this Qiuci beauty, who usually was as cold as ice and frost toward him, a bit longer, who would have thought that she quickly flew away? Fu Qian, Xing Mofei and two Tuyuhun beauties were heading his direction; it was unclear whether Linglong Jiao’s abrupt departure was to avoid them. Under Fu Qian’s introduction, he learned that the taller beauty’s fragrant name was Li An, the other was called Hua Na [Leanne and Hannah?]. Both were brimming with exotic gracefulness, with wild and daring characters, which were rarely found on Central Earth beauties. When they were looking at Kou Zhong, their gaze was more absolutely unrestrained than his.
Especially Hua Na; her beautiful wavy maroon hair hung naturally across her shoulders, her pink fragrant lips, her beautiful brown eyes, the corners of her eyes slightly slanting upward, matching beautifully with her high and grand cheekbones, her thin, silky eyebrows, her warm and soft, as well as richly elastic skin, plus the attractive bearing of her forehead, the more he looked at her, the more he felt she had real character. Indeed she was not inferior to Shen Luoyan, Song Yuzhi, that kind of beauty.
Unsure of the relationship between Fu Qian and the two beauties, he avoided the two women’s provocative gaze, and turned toward Fu Qian and said with a laugh, “It does not seem appropriate to fight tonight!”
Fu Qian swept the hall with his gaze; finally he fixed his gaze on Li Shimin, Tuli, Wang Shichong, and Rong Fengxiang’s group. He responded casually, “Fighting can be done anytime, anywhere; I am sure Rong Laoban won’t mind. But this is the first time I am attending your Han people’s feast; I don’t want to ruin the lively and peaceful atmosphere here.”
Kou Zhong felt that his casual remark seemed to suggest something, some mysterious intention. He laughed and replied, “Therefore, if it were in the ring [orig. leitai – elevated stage on which martial competitions or duels were held] or on the battleground, Wangzi would unleash your expertise. Is that right?”
Fu Qian smiled and changed the subject, “So who’s that man by Li Shimin who keeps looking at you?”
Kou Zhong looked; he smiled wryly and said, “He is Li Jing, Hong Funu’s husband.”
Fu Qian nodded and said, “This man is indeed remarkable; no wonder he was able to catch Hong Funu’s eyes. I wonder why Hong Funu is not here tonight?”
Hua Na laughed tenderly and said, “Why don’t Wangzi ask the question directly to him? Nujia guesses that he’s coming this way!”
Her accent was not pure; she pronounced ‘bu’ [not/don’t] as ‘bo’ and ‘jie’ [answer] as ‘ze’; but it did not sound so comical. [As you can guess, it’s difficult to translate word for word, so I altered the sentence as above. In case you are curious, the original is like this: Wangzi why ‘bo’ straight ‘ze’ ask him?]
Sure enough, Li Jing was slowly walking toward them. His gait was stable and powerful, carrying some kind of intimidating momentum.
Fu Qian praised, “This man is indeed a general or a minister material.”
Kou Zhong was stunned, “Wangzi can tell just by looking at him? What do you think of Li Shimin?”
Fu Qian replied indifferently, “I am an expert in the profound method of looking at people. He saw that we were talking about him, not only he did not show the slightest bit of uneasiness, he took the initiative to come instead. Plus his steps are full of confidence; evidently he is a courageous and promising scholar, definitely not an ordinary man.”
Xing Mofei joined in, “The man that Li Shimin is willing to employ can’t be an inferior one.”
This moment Li Jing arrived in front of the five; he saluted and said, “Li Jing pays his respect to Fu Qian Wangzi.”
And then, turning to Kou Zhong, he said, “Is it possible for you to step aside to talk a little bit?”
Fu Qian laughed aloud and said, “Is it possible for Li Xiong to answer a question of mine first?”
Without any sideways glance Li Jing met Fu Jian’s sharp-as-an-arrow gaze, and calmly replied, “Wangzi, please ask the question.”
Fu Qian threw his head back in loud laughter, which immediately attracted the attention of everybody in the hall, and only then did he speak in loud and clear voice, “If your esteemed master is fortunate to obtain the world, would he, like Yang Guang, strive to achieve extraordinary things by flaunting his military prowess to the Western Region to expand his territory?”
The hall immediately grew quiet; even the maids and servants waiting on the guests stopped whatever they were doing, only the sound of music lingered on. Apparently this question had a subduing, intimidating power.
Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, ‘Formidable!’. Even Tuli and Wang Shichong also listened respectfully, they wanted to hear how Li Jing would answer this question.
This question ought to be answered personally by Li Shimin. The problem was that Li Shimin was not the crown prince at all. If he rushed to answer, it would be clear that he was competing against his elder brother Li Jiancheng in the succession right to the throne.
Furthermore, it involved Li Shimin’s aspiration, so whether Li Jing answered it or not, it would be equally inappropriate. If he responded with evasive words, Fu Qian would only look down on him.
Fu Qian finally made his move to probe.
Li Jing laughed calmly and said, “It doesn’t matter who obtain the world, he must understand the Han-Hu [Han and non-Han] differences in territory, culture, natural conditions and local social customs. These differences are real. Dwelling primarily on these differences will only make us suffer lack of virtue and beneficence; there is no need to be suspicious. Concealing virtue and beneficence, these four tribes can be likened to a family, where suspicions and jealousy abound, blood relation would inevitably become animosity. Won’t Fu Wangzi think so?”
This answer skirted the issue but struck at the heart of the matter; listening to this, everybody uttered sincere praises.
Fu Qian let out another long laugh; he even cried out ‘Good!’ three times, before lowering his voice to cheerfully address Li and Kou, two men, “Gentlemen, feel free to do as you please!”
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Kou Zhong and Li Jing walked around the banquet area to get out of the hall via a side door, toward a corridor winding along the Hall’s wall, lined with stone fence.
Although this morning’s heavy rain has stopped, the weather has not improved, the moon and the stars did not show their light. Beyond the fence was a fishpond dotted with rockeries. Rows of tree peonies were planted along the edge of the pond, but due to the heavy rain, not much flowers left; petals floated on the surface of the pond, drifting away following the flow of the water.
Li Jing spoke heavily, “Xiao Ling left town last night; where did he go?”
Kou Zhong was dying to mock him by asking whether he posted sentries to monitor the city gate twelve sichen a day, but recalling their brotherhood in the past, he held his temper and replied, “He has a pressing business to find a friend.”
Li Jing sighed and said, “Ay! Why did things deteriorate to this hard-to-fix stage?”
Kou Zhong had his gazed on the fish swimming in the pond. “Well said!” he replied indifferently, “Yesterday I tasted Saozi’s [sister-in-law] red whisk that even my little life was nearly gone.”
Shaken, Li Jing turned his eyes toward Kou Zhong. “What?” he blurted.
Kou Zhong shrugged his shoulders, “It was nothing,” he replied, “I can’t blame her; isn’t it called loving husband unconditionally?”
Li Jing was quiet for a long time. Finally he spoke with strained voice, “When are you going back to the south?”
Kou Zhong revealed a pained and miserable expression. Every time he remembered his unfortunate sister Su, he felt that all his achievements became empty and unreal, with nothing to show. Filled with helplessness with nowhere-to-complain feeling, he said, “Please don’t mind Su Jie’s matter, all right? Right now we don’t even have any strength left to put the blame on you.”
His countenance changed, Li Jing said, “What actually happened? Tonight you look somewhat downcast and dispirited.”
Thinking about past cause and future effect, Kou Zhong nearly wanted to cry aloud, but he clenched his teeth, waved his hand and walked away.
Li Jing reached out to grab his arm, “What actually happened?” he shouted.
Kou Zhong whimpered, “The biggest mistake Su Jie ever committed in all her life was knowing the three of us. Is that enough?” Flinging Li Jing’s hand, he staggered back into the Hall.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong was rushing in when he bumped into someone coming out of the Hall. This other person pulled his arm and said, “I was just looking for you!”
Naturally Kou Zhong was not in the mood to chat with anybody, “Hou Xiong, what noble errands brought you here?” he spoke crossly.
Surprisingly it was the ‘Passionate Prince’ Hou Xibai.
Seeing him talking with someone else, Li Jing, who was running after him, sighed and walked away, disappointed and frustrated.
The other guests started to take their seat, while Li Shimin, Wang Shichong, and their men, several groups of people, remained standing, laughing, joking and making small talk. Rong Fengxiang and Fu Qian were exchanging conventional greetings. In short, it was a lively and jubilant atmosphere.
Yun Yuzhen also came. She visited with Song Lu and Liu Jing, the three of them chatted in low voice; nobody knew what they were talking about. Other new arrivals included Bai Qing’er, Zheng Shuming, and Zheng Shiru.
The ensemble stopped playing. Outside the firecrackers continued loudly, the sound of people urging each other to drink, the banters, young men and women having fun, shouting and calling each other, continuously coming from the two front halls and the rear courtyard. Comparatively speaking, the inner hall’s atmosphere was a lot more subdued.
Hou Xibai pulled Kou Zhong to a corner and said in low voice, “Where is Ziling Xiong? Why didn’t he come to join the fun? I saw Feixuan yesterday, she said that the dispute concerning the Jade of Annulus has been resolved.”
“Xiao Ling has to do something; he can’t come,” Kou Zhong replied, “What do you want?”
Hou Xibai’s handsome eyes lingered on Dong Shuni and Rong Jiaojiao, who were sitting side by side, for a moment. Their banquet table was one of four tables in the middle, and it was quite full. Including Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, two brothers, they were all of younger generation, and everybody was scrambling to fawn upon the two ladies.
But from time to time the two ladies’ eyes were floating toward Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai; clearly they were very interested in the two men.
Hou Xibai said, “Did Fenghan Xiong and Ziling Xiong mentioned that I was tracking a Yin Gui Pai female demon?”
It was only then did Kou Zhong remember that Xu Ziling indeed told him about this matter. Forcing himself to rouse his spirit, he asked, “How was it? Who was she?”
Hou Xibai leaned closer and replied, “It’s precisely the peerless beauty wearing Yunnan batik [color printing on cloth using wax]. Among everybody here, she is the only one wearing that kind of clothes; obviously she loves to be in the limelight very much.”
Kou Zhong has never paid much attention to what kind of clothes a girl was wearing, he was only interested in finding out if she was good-looking or not. Frowning, he said, “You are the expert in girls, while I don’t know anything about their clothes. Can’t you not talk such profound mystery?”
Hou Xibai laughed involuntarily and said, “It’s inconvenient for me to point at her, because all women in this room are glaring at us like a tiger watching its prey. Batik’s distinguishing feature is the dyeing process, where the dye permeates the cloth through the crack of wax previously applied, creating thousands of lines and tens of thousands of patterns like exploding ice. The changes are natural, not fixed in the least, the hue simple yet elegant, the variations are limitless.”
It was only then that Kou Zhong realized Dong Shuni’s clothes looked like his description. Shaken, he said, “You don’t mean that crafty and unruly girl wearing alternating blue and red colors clothes, do you?”
Delighted, Hou Xibai said, “Kou Xiong indeed understood with just a bit of clue. Precisely that woman, I am 100% sure. Who is she?”
Kou Zhong sucked in a mouthful of cold air, then said, “Really not Rong Jiaojiao but she? This is really unexpected. But her lightness skill is indeed extremely good, I just did not know if she is also well versed in martial arts.”
“Who is she?” Hou Xibai pressed on.
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and replied, “She is Wang Shichong’s niece [sister’s daughter], but I don’t think she is a Yin Gui Pai female demon.”
Inwardly he added that I have had fiery, passionate relationship with her. This girl’s brilliance was in her exceptional qinggong, but her wugong [martial art skill] was ordinary. And they had never doubted her, because she really had no reason to lie.
Hou Xibai was stunned, “Are you sure?” he asked.
Kou Zhong replied, “If she is really a Yin Gui Pai female demon, Xiao Ling and I would have been finished by now! How could I speak with you here?”
Rong Fengxiang’s laughter interrupted everybody’s conversation, and then he politely asked everybody to take their seat.